The Chicago Bulls took too long to come together in their first season under head coach Billy Donovan, but as they brace for their second year of a new era, there are a few offseason moves that can help them take that next step.
Chicago missed out on a spot in the NBA’s play-in tournament by two games. However, Donovan’s squad didn’t quit down the stretch, winning five of its last seven to finish on a high note.
With a decent core in place and a generous amount of salary cap space, the Bulls have the means to upgrade this NBA offseason. Here are three moves they should strongly consider to ascend in the Eastern Conference in 2021-22.
Chicago Bulls rumors: Dennis Schroder expected to be free-agent target
The Los Angeles Lakers guard is reportedly expected to be on the Bulls’ offseason wish list when he hits free agency, per Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer. Chicago’s interest in Schroder was confirmed in a later report by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.
Schroder disappointed in LA after a runner-up Sixth Man of the Year campaign in 2019-20 with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Nevertheless, he brings firepower off the bench, perimeter shooting, excellent on-ball defense and would complement Zach LaVine and Coby White extremely well.
It’s just a matter of how much money Chicago is willing to spend to acquire Schroder. Bulls coach Billy Donovan was with Schroder in OKC, so a reunion makes sense if the price is right.
Chicago Bulls rumors: Latest buzz suggests team will spend big in free agency
Citing the desire for a dynamic point guard next to Zach LaVine, The Action Network’s Matt Moore reported recently that the Bulls will be “big spenders” on the open market.
Targets Moore referenced to team with LaVine included Kyle Lowry, Dennis Schroder, Lonzo Ball and Spencer Dinwiddie. That’s quite a range of quality in players, and it’s anyone’s guess who the Bulls could lure to the Windy City.
If that is indeed the list Chicago is focused on, Schroder and Ball seem like the best value signings and the most logical long-term moves. Ball is especially dynamic as a passer, while Schroder could be fetched at a bargain since he had something of a down season with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Unless the Bulls can sell Lowry that they’re ready to compete for a championship right away, he likely won’t sign. Dinwiddie is considerably inferior as a player to the other three options posed here. Keep an eye on Ball and Schroder, though.
Chicago Bulls rumors: Lauri Markkanen free-agent contract worth $13 million per year
ESPN.com’s Bobby Marks did an extensive breakdown of the Bulls’ cap situation and key personnel decisions, and of course, Lauri Markkanen was prominently mentioned as he prepares to be a restricted free agent.
Citing an advanced data subscription-based service, ProFitX, Marks indicated that Markkanen’s new contract is likely to net him $13 million per year.
Markkanen was never going to be a max-contract player. Whatever he winds up costing should be a relative bargain given that he’s still only 23 and still has upside.
Since Chicago already has Nikola Vucevic, Markkanen is a strange fit personnel-wise, so getting defensive help and more perimeter firepower in a potential sign-and-trade would be clutch.
Chicago Bulls rumors: Team could trade into 1st round of NBA Draft
Armed with only the 38th overall pick in the second round, there’s buzz coming out of the Windy City that the Bulls are keeping a close eye on the draft and could trade back into Round 1, per NBCSports.com’s K.C. Johnson.
“I know the Bulls’ brain trust not only scouted the combine but had plans to continue working the draft — not only for the 38th pick but to be prepared in case any opportunities arise to trade into the first round,” Johnson wrote.
Chicago sacrificed multiple first-round picks in the trade that brought in Orlando Magic All-Star Nikola Vucevic. It seems like a good plan to build around him and Zach LaVine, but finding a hidden gem in the draft would be huge for the Bulls if they can pull that off.
Chicago Bulls rumors: Coby White’s injury increases priority to add guard this offseason
NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson provided an updated timeline on Bulls guard Coby White’s return from shoulder surgery, and added how that ties into the team’s offseason priorities:
It’s clear that Chicago needs backcourt help alongside Zach LaVine. Depending on the future of Lauri Markkanen, there will be a clear surplus skewed to the frontcourt with Markkanen and Nikola Vucevic in the fold.
There aren’t any really viable, experienced guards on the roster outside of LaVine, and he only recently ascended to borderline superstar status. That means Chicago must be proactive in upgrading that area. A Markkanen sign-and-trade might help the cause. More on that later.
But before the Bulls go on a free-agent spending spree, they should probably hone in on ensuring LaVine is there for the long haul.
Chicago Bulls’ top offseason priority must be Zach LaVine extension
This is more of a morale-boosting, psychologically calming offseason move that the Bulls should make.
Zach LaVine’s career trajectory in terms of purely improving on the court has been on an upward trend during his entire time in the NBA. It culminated in a phenomenal 2020-21 campaign in which he shot 50.7% from the floor, 41.9% from 3-point range and 84.9% from the foul in averaging 27.4 points per contest.
For those who don’t think LaVine’s form is sustainable, consider this anecdote from Bulls Gold, which underscores the legendary company LaVine joined this season:
LaVine is a legitimate franchise player who’s still only 26 years old, and continues improving as a shooter, playmaker and team leader. This is one Chicago shouldn’t overthink. He’s the best player to roll through the organization in a while.
That’s right. Pay him the max contract extension. LaVine is an unrestricted free agent in 2022, and having an uncertain future could cloud his ability to lead the Bulls and put undue pressure on everyone on the team.
By paying him this summer instead, Chicago could tie LaVine to the Windy City and continue building around him. A good-faith move like that should only galvanize the franchise, and show interested free agents that the Bulls have a vision for success in the near future.
Chicago Bulls trade scenarios for 2021 NBA offseason
Sign-and-trade Lauri Markkanen
Although Lauri Markkanen just put forth his most proficient shooting season yet, he was relegated to backup duty and is still too much of a liability on defense. The 7-footer should be a better rim protector with his length, but that’s not his game.
Markkanen still has room to improve. While Chicago would ideally re-sign him as a restricted free agent and keep him, what it should do instead is match the offer sheet and then trade Markkanen to a strong suitor. The problem is, the Bulls can’t deal Markkanen to the team that gives him the highest offer sheet, so that’s where things get a little complicated.
Here’s a potential Lauri Markkanen sign-and-trade scenario:
- Miami Heat get: PF Lauri Markkanen
- Chicago Bulls get: SG Duncan Robinson
The Miami Heat seem like a suitable trade candidate. Robinson may cost more than Markkanen as a restricted free agent, so some tweaking would be needed. But that’s the foundation of a sign-and-trade that could benefit both sides.
Miami has a crowded perimeter rotation and doesn’t have a stretch 4 like Markkanen, whose skill set would be a great complement to Bam Adebayo. For Chicago’s side, it gets elite shooting in Robinson and someone who knows how to play in the type of system Donovan wants to run, and hails from a great Heat culture.
Granted, any team around the NBA could offer a mind-blowing sheet to Markkanen or Robinson and kill any such deal like this. This would be a great outcome for Chicago and Miami, though.
Chicago Bulls top free-agent targets this summer
Jeff Green, forward, Brooklyn Nets
At this point in his career, Jeff Green is probably content to take less money to play for a surefire contender. That said, maybe Donovan can recruit him to the Bulls to be a key, experienced leader for an up-and-coming squad.
Green has excellent defensive versatility and would have the chance to play a huge role in Chicago. The 35-year-old still boasts great athleticism, and his length is ideally suited to play the 3 or the 4 in the modern small-ball NBA.
The Brooklyn Nets have seen their superstars like Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving all miss significant time this season. One constant has been Green, who appeared in 68 of 72 regular-season games, made 38 starts and averaged 11 points on 49.2% shooting from the field and 41.2% from deep.
It’s going to take a little more money to lure Green to the Bulls, but the front office should absolutely consider it. Regardless of whether the Nets thrive in the playoffs or things go south, Green could very well be looking for a new challenge. Chicago is a fascinating opportunity.
Putting a savvy veteran like Green on the court with LaVine, Vucevic, Coby White and Patrick Williams comprises a strong crunch-time quintet. The Bulls could certainly do a lot worse.
Other prime Chicago Bulls free-agent targets
- Dennis Schroder, guard, Los Angeles Lakers
- Lonzo Ball, guard, New Orleans Pelicans (restricted)